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The 3 Best Free Virtualization Tools.

Virtualization is the future of all business computing. Corporate datacenters housing racks of servers are becoming storage rooms and break rooms; as the necessity of onsite physical servers goes down and the utility of colocation datacenters running servers hosting hundreds or even thousands of virtual machines goes up, we’ll continue to see businesses focus less on the burden of hosting servers and focus more on their core competencies. This is the essence of server virtualization – enhancing the division of labor and decreasing unnecessary liabilities.

Enterprise-level virtualization software can run into the tens of thousands of dollars when all is said and done – but if you’re just looking to run a few virtual machines (VM’s) for small tasks, or are an IT professional looking to brush up on VM administration skills, then you don’t have to break the bank – try one of these free virtualization tools instead:

1. Oracle VirtualBox.

VirtualBox has been around for 10 years as one of the most dominant free solutions out there. Robust, powerful, very versatile, and easy as free. VirtualBox is renowned for it’s lean design, lending itself well to home use for the average computer. The software is extraordinarily consistent, designed to run identically across all platforms – and is updated frequently to reflect trends in hardware development. All in all, VitualBox is a great choice for anyone who wants to get started in virtualization.

2. VMware Player

VMware is the granddaddy of all virtualization solutions, releasing some of the first successful commercial virtualization software in 1998 and maintaining a powerful market presence ever since. The software actually comes in 3 flavors: Player, which is free, is meant for home use on Windows or Linux systems. VMware Fusion, at $80, is meant for Apple users wanting to virtualize Windows. Finally, VMware Workstation Pro, $250, is a solution geared toward professionals looking to run multiple powerful VMs.

Like VirtualBox, VMware is mostly straightfoward and highly versatile. Slightly less easy to use, in my experience – but still very user-friendly.

3. QEMU

Throwing a bone specifically to Linux users, QEMU is a free virtualization application boasting a wide range of feature compatibility and near-native level performance in operation. I have no experience with this tool directly, but Lifewire.com reviews QEMU this way:

QEMU is frequently the hypervisor of choice for Linux users, based on its zero-dollar price tag and easy-to-master full-system emulation tools. The open source emulator simulates an impressive range of hardware peripherals, using dynamic translation for ideal performance.

Running KVM virtual machines when using QEMU as a virtualizer can result in what is essentially native-level performance on the right hardware, making you almost forget that you’re using a VM.

Administrative privileges are only required in certain scenarios with QEMU, such as when you need to access your USB devices from within a guest VM. This is somewhat of a rarity with this type of software, adding some pliability to the ways in which you can use it.

Sounds useful; I’ll take their word for it.

If you haven’t yet used virtualization in the course of work or daily life, I strongly encourage you to download one of the above applications and give it a try! Just keep in mind that you’ll need software for your desired OS to install onto a VM. If you don’t have any copies of Windows or other paid OS’s to spare, check out this list of free operating systems to at least get your virtualization experience started.

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